Are you sick of hearing about Hurricane Katrina yet?
I certainly hope not. Have you been back to the Coast since the devastating storm? I hope so. You'll see a world of progress, and a world of destruction side by side, uneasy neighbors along the cities and towns of the Gulf Coast.
Seeing firsthand what Katrina did to our family, I've never lost interest in the aftermath. But for me, the story has shifted from a storm of Biblical proportions to a human story. Who are the people who left? Where are they? Who stayed? How are they doing in their efforts to continue life as they knew it?
So when I heard about Brian "Breeze" Cayolle, I jumped at the chance to talk to the world-class saxophone player who left the Crescent City to make Memphis home, for good. And we're better off for it. If you see him at the grocery store, make sure to say hi. It means a lot to him.
But why does the Katrina story mean so much to me? As we go to press with this issue, I'm headed for the Coast to see my grandmother for what will be the last time. She's in her rebuilt home — which was destroyed after Katrina. It was her last wish. The stubborn woman refused to spend her last days in a FEMA trailer, and by god, she didn't. At 89, she's lived a full life. I'm re-running a portion of my editor's letter written about her from our October 2005 issue. I hope you don't feel cheated somehow. Even after everything she's been through in the last few years, I know she doesn't.
Since Hurricane Katrina changed the face of the Gulf Coast as we know it, we've been inundated with images of destruction, despair, death, and on rare occasions, hope. Twenty-four-hour news channels and a constantly updated stream of information online bring us up-to-the-second reports and images, helping to keep our short attention spans focused on the needs of the thousands affected.
One of those people is Elizabeth Gulley. You can call her Betty, all her friends do. Betty is a strong, fiercely independent woman. Though 88 years have taken a toll on her body, her mind is sharp and clear, her sense of humor firmly intact.
Betty lives in Pascagoula, Mississippi, a small coastal town sandwiched between Biloxi and Mobile, known mainly for its shipyard and its proximity to Horn Island, where artist Walter Anderson sought respite and, in turn, found his muse. She's lived there most of her life, and has seen her share of tragedies. She's weathered Hurricane Camille and hundreds of lesser-known storms, watched as her husband and son went off to fight in two different wars, and cried with joy when they returned. She buried her husband Walter in 1994, and has lived alone in her home on the coast since then.
She fled from Katrina, only to return to ruin. Days of digging through mud and debris have yielded a few family treasures: her mother's wedding band, inscribed with the date 1901, her husband's Navy sword, her Red Cross volunteer nametag from World War II, and a handful of mud-encrusted family photos. Like her neighbors and countless others all along the coast, she's lost almost everything.
It would be too much for many of us to take. But Betty, after quietly shedding a few tears, stood among the ruins of what once was her home, and vowed to rebuild.
I'm in awe of this woman, have been for years. In awe of the way she led her family though both good and bad times, and in awe of her resolve in times of such enormous uncertainty, of her refusal to give up, when giving up seems so much easier than the alternative. I'm proud of the way she's passed that resolve along to her daughters, who in turn, have passed it along to theirs. I only hope that when I'm faced with similar hardships, I'll be as strong as Betty — or "Mimi," as we call our grandmother in our family — has been throughout her life.